Monday, August 29, 2016

Trump Note -- June, 2016

Two and a half months later, a couple of people found this via Twitter and passed it along.
At least two people noticed.

The GOP is swallowing Donald Trump's bigotry hook, line and sinker. I just saw a link to National Review with the lede "Obama’s tortured euphemisms make the the U.S. look weak and unfocused." Even as his second term comes to an end, they cannot let go of the sneering animus that has driven their opposition from the moment McConnell announced his main mission was to insure that Obama would be a one-term president.

Never mind it was George Bush himself who called Islam a religion of peace long before Obama was ever on the scene. Never mind that the Arab Spring was a non-violent uprising in the Middle East. Never mind that Muslims are way more victimized by the extremists than non-Muslims. Never mind the world is facing the largest wave of human migration since WWII, driven in no small part by people escaping violent extremism and lawlessness.

None of that has any meaning in the eyes of Donald Trump and an ignorant subset of otherwise mostly good Americans, desperate to blame someone or some thing for horrible events they cannot otherwise explain. Frustrated people throughout history tend to blame leaders for tragedies over which they have little or no control. And when all else fails, their rage scapegoats targeted minorities...Jews, Kurds, gypsies, Christians, homosexuals, blacks -- whatever minority among them is visible and vulnerable.

In the aftermath of 9/11 Americans by the millions have been led to believe that a violence-prone segment of Islam is representative of the entire faith, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims live and work among us, serve in the military and are not importantly different from everyone else. This is the ignorant mindset of fear and hate. It's like believing the KKK represents all of Christianity.

So the trope continues that *strong leaders* must pronounce the magic code words "radical...Islamic...terrorism" to embrace once and forever the belief that Muslims -- ALL of them by association -- are the main source of terrorism. And anyone in a position of leadership, or aspiring to become a leader, must pass the magic language test.

But have no fear, America. Donald Trump is here. He will not allow a day to pass without reminding us all how strong he is as evidenced by a relentless stream of vile insults to foreigners in general and Muslims in particular. And the Republican Party, that Grand Old Party, has elevated this hateful man to the status of candidate to become leader of the free world.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

McCarthyism's Long Shadow

First published over three years ago, this post has received a few hits the last three weeks, so I'm republishing it. The anti-Iran animus has become worse since it first appeared. Perhaps this will help balance what can become runaway panic. The video at the end is priceless.
During my high school days McCarthyism had blossomed and wilted, but the blacklists, fears and public sentiments of the time remained fresh. The House Un-American Activities Committee had been formed in the Thirties to investigate and root out subversive Communist activity. And in the Senate Wisconsin's Joseph McCarthy carried the same banner effectively enough to brand the era with his name -- McCarthyism. HUAC was alive and well into the late Sixties and the list of subversive organizations remained a litmus test for anyone having to do with the government. When I was drafted I was required to read over that list and sign a document affirming that I had not been associated with any of them. Thanks to those years I recognize the exaggerated fear that  social and political paranoia produces when I see it. And I'm seeing it again today.

A very wise man of my parents' generation who was later instrumental in assisting me in getting a couple of low-interest college loans told me a story about the McCarthy Era. Sometime during the mid-Fifties a college professor he knew went into his classroom once afternoon and told the class to be quiet, he had something important to tell them. He checked the hall and closed the door and transom, went to the windows and pulled the blinds and told the ones in the back to move in a little closer so they could hear.
When all was quiet, he said in a very low voice, "Russian mothers love their babies."
He then went to the windows and opened the blinds, told those in the back to return to their seats, opened the door and transom for ventilation and began his lecture.
That was his way of commenting on the fears and paranoia of the time. It seems silly and may have been a made-up story. But in telling the story he was letting me know something important about the adult world I could expect as I finished high school and ventured into the world. The changes of the Sixties were still to come.

I'm retelling the story because since the September 11, 2001 with the destruction of the World Trade Center America has found it's way back to the same level of suspicion, fear and national paranoia that is the enduring legacy of McCarthyism. We have waged two actual wars and waved the flag as elected representatives added Wars on Drugs, Terror, Gangs, Cancer, Poverty, Pollution, Science and just about any trope imaginable.  Waging war has become a way of life, so much that we have accepted war as part of what normalcy looks like. Those of us who were conscientious objectors during the time when a military draft was in effect find ourselves surrounded by a generation that never heard the term. War seems no longer objectionable, having become a metaphor for achieving something good instead of the disagreeable duty it is, what some have called a necessary evil.


I'm putting these thoughts into words in response to a post by Juan Cole making reference to an excellent op-ed in Lebanon's Daily Star by the highly esteemed journalist Rami Khouri.  The proximate subject is Iran, but there is a larger picture. The way we as Americans look at Iran is typical of the simplistic way we see most other countries as well as political adversaries in our midst.
I give the reader credit for being smart enough to connect the dots when I refer him to the story above ending with the line "Russian mothers love their babies.

The pain of following Iran in U.S. media
By Rami G. Khouri, April 06, 2013
One of the most annoying aspects of spending time in the United States, as I have just done during a month’s working visit there, is to follow news coverage of Iran in the mainstream American media. Well, calling it “news” coverage is a bit of a stretch, because the mainstream media is not really reporting news about Iran, but rather repackaging ideological attacks and threats that emanate primarily from the American and Israeli governments. 
The main problem – evident in virtually every story about Iran in the mainstream media, including “quality” outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the leading television channels – is that the coverage is inevitably based on assumptions, fears, concerns, accusations and expectations that are almost never supported by factual and credible evidence. 
Two things in particular are wrong in the coverage. First is that most media stories about Iran view the country almost uniquely as being an adversary and a threat to the United States, Israel and Arab allies of the U.S., whether because of Iran’s alleged regional hegemonic aims or its terrorism links. Iran only exists for most American media as a threat to be beaten back at any cost. 
The second is that most media analyze Iran almost exclusively through the lens of its nuclear industry. This attitude sees Iran as secretly developing a nuclear bomb that it will use to threaten or destroy neighboring powers, including Israel and Arab oil-producing countries. For the U.S. media, Iran is first and foremost a nuclear threat. Little else about the country is deemed worthy of serious coverage. 
I have no doubt that any impartial assessment of the professional conduct of most American media outlets in covering the Iran situation would find it deeply flawed and highly opinionated, to the point where I would say that mainstream media coverage of Iran in the U.S. is professionally criminal. I base this on having learned my journalism craft and values in the United States, where quality press coverage of any issue ideally should be characterized by accuracy, balance, depth and context, and a rigorous attempt by the writer to remain impartial when reporting stories that include controversy or conflict. 
These professional qualities are usually absent from news coverage of Iran, and I say this is a criminal enterprise because the consequences of the flawed and aggressive coverage helps shape a public view that makes it acceptable to threaten and sanction Iran on the basis of mere suspicions and fears in the minds of American and Israeli politicians – all of whom, I would guess, have never visited Iran or spoken to any credible or “normal” Iranian not involved in political lobbying in Washington. The discussion of Iran in media outlets over the past two years has also been full of references to the possibility of attacks against Iran by Israel or the U.S., with little if any serious analysis of whether such attacks are permissible under international law. 
I am continuously amazed to see every accusation in every story about Iran’s alleged sinister and secretive nuclear bomb plans hedged with phrases such as “it is assumed” or “officials believe” or “analysts suspect” or Iran “may be” or “is thought to be” or is “suspected of” doing this, that or the other. There is no certainty, little credible proof, and few verifiable facts, only anger, assumptions and fear 
This same hollow and shoddy level of evidence presented in media portrayals of Iran could never be used to frame, say, the actions of young African-Americans, Hispanic teachers, or professional women bankers, because it would be opposed by both professional media standards and common human rights standards as being a bag of wild prejudices and stereotypes that are not supported by fact. 
The mass media gets away with disguising ideological venom as impartial news coverage in the case of Iran, though, because a different standard of professionalism is at work here, one which makes it permissible for media outlets to ignore their role as reporters of facts in favor of being ideological warriors that serve the purposes of assorted governments. We saw at great cost in Iraq what destruction, waste and criminality this sort of behavior can lead to. 
It will be fascinating now to see how media reports on possible signs of progress in the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) which are set to resume in Kazakhstan. I hope our American journalism colleagues will summon the moral and professional strengths within them to cover both sides of these talks in their full and accurate political and technical contexts, rather than continue to act as robotic cheerleaders for the American and Israeli governments.

It is for that reason that my Facebook timeline often shares links with Humans of Tehrana brave, quiet, civil photographic attempt to share glimpses of ordinary Persians from a variety of lifestyles that reflect the diversity and humanity of their country's culture and social diversity.

Check the collection of snapshots from that site.

And finally, take a look at this thirteen year old Persian girl and as she sings her heart out ask yourself out how well you think this image, and those above, conform to the impressions of Iran which Americans are being fed on a daily basis.

If the place we are living is not McCarthyism Redux I don't know what it is.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Smoke but no fire" She Said

Hillary Clinton's "smoke but no fire" soundbite was propellant on a fire for the hate-Hillary hit-piece cottage industry. 

One particularly salacious site (which uses "fart on hillary clinton" in the html code) came up with the portmanteau "SHitlery" by blending her name with both shit and Hitler.
Laissez les bon temps roulez (Let the good times roll) as they say in Louisiana!

Maybe someone can explain how a former vice-president got away with a far more obvious conflict of interest for two consecutive terms as media inquiries fell away like water on Teflon.

Dare I suggest a different gender standard at play?
Or is that playing "the woman card"?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Hillary Clinton Copy & Paste Hit Piece

As election day approaches, the following screed maligning Hillary Clinton is making the rounds in comments threads:
If you are Gay, why are you voting for Hillary when she wants to bring in 1,000's of refugees that believe all Gays should be executed.
If you are Black, why are you voting for Hillary when she admires Margaret Sanger and defends Planned Parenthood when they want o abort as many black babies as possible. Exterminate the black race because they are like "weeds". Most of those clinics are in Black neighborhoods.
If you are a Christian, why are you voting for Hillary Clinton when she wrote her Senior thesis on Saul Alinsky who dedicated his book Rules for Radicals to Lucifer, The Devil. She says he was and still is her mentor.
If you are a Veteran, in the military, or closely related to a military member, why are you voting for Hillary when she left those men to die in Benghazi and had the nerve to lie about it over and over again. They called for help but the help was told to stand down.
If you have factory job, why are you voting for Hillary when she supported TPP and factory works are being laid off because jobs are going over sees. Don't forget the deals she made with china. She also welcomes open borders and illegals to get benefits with your tax money.
If you are poor, why are you voting for Hillary, when she is supporting Wall street and all the big banks. Big banks keep the poor, poor by destroying the poor man's credit by allowing medical bills and collections to affect your credit scores so you can pay higher interest rates than the rich. Taking as much of the little money you earn.
If you are a woman, how can you vote for Hillary when she has buried all of Bills rape victims under the rug including the little girl that was raped when she defended the rapist and laughed about it later.
If you carry a gun, believe in the Constitution, how can you vote for Hillary when she wants to eliminate the NRA, Take your guns, and abolish the second amendment.
If you breathe, why would you vote for Hillary when she has left a trail of dead people that did not agree with her or knew too much!
Who is left?
In other words, if you vote for this woman you must be the stupidest person who ever lived. I found this link to the Snopes Facebook discussion page which has the usual array of sniping and carping in the comments thread. The reader can go there for further information. I'm not wasting time and energy here to summarize how each of these so-called "points" has been worded to mislead. I'm making note of it for future reference.

Something of a cottage industry emerged during the first Obama campaign and first term aimed at creating and disseminating hateful agitprop about him. I suppose as his former Secretary of State and heir apparent to his two terms, Hillary Clinton is getting the same slings and arrows.
Incidentally, here is another link to more anti-Obama stuff. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

List of Syrian Factions

Following a break in the siege of Aleppo, The Guardian assembled a list of various elements of the Syrian civil war. Go to the link for more content, but this part jumps out to me.
Both sides are throwing everything they can at the four-year battle for the city – a fight that has come to define the Syrian civil war, because each believes the fate of Aleppo will decide the outcome of the conflict. 
“This battle’s results exceed simply opening the road for besieged people; it will overturn the balance of the struggle in the Levant,” said Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, leader of the powerful Jabhat al-Nusra faction that, until last month, was the official al- Qaida franchise in Syria. 
Last month, the faction severed those ties, changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and renounced international jihad, although observers said there was little sign of a parallel shift in ideology. Instead, experts reckoned the move was probably aimed at getting it off US airstrike target lists and easing coalitions with other factions. 
That rebranding put the group in a strong position to capitalise on last week’s campaign, particularly if it can consolidate a victory that casts it as a champion of Aleppo’s battered civilians. 
“We urge our people in Aleppo to remain steadfast,” Jolani added in the audio recording released on Friday. “The mujahideen will not fail you.” 
The contrast with western powers, which condemned the siege but said they were powerless to stop it, is unlikely to be lost on Syrians, analysts warned. 
“The world abandoned Aleppo; the jihadis came to the rescue. Al-Qaida’s rebranding could hardly have asked for more,” analyst Kyle Orton, from the Henry Jackson Society, said on Twitter.
Syria’s rebels unite to break Assad’s siege of Aleppo
A lifeline has been re-established to the opposition-held city. But will hardline jihadis reap the rewards for leading the successful offensive?

Assad and his allies

Regime forces
The Syrian army numbered 300,000 before the war but, after five years of fighting, it is barely a third of that.

Hezbollah began to support Assad covertly soon after violence broke out and, in 2013, its leader publicly declared it had joined the war. It is believed to have lost hundreds of fighters, including its top military commander.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards
Iran firmly supports Assad, whom it sees as a key ally in a regional power struggle, and is supplying arms, fuel and hundreds of soldiers. Last year, it released photos of its most celebrated commander on the ground in Syria.

Shia militias
Iranian troops are fighting alongside, and coordinating, Shia militias recruited from across the region, including from Iraq, Afghanistan and even Pakistan.

Russian air force
Last autumn’s Russian air campaign was key to turning the tide of the war in Assad’s favour. Its planes can fly in weather that grounds the Syrian air force and have more powerful and accurate weapons.

Anti-Assad forces in Aleppo

Free Syrian Army
The moderate FSA, made up of many smaller groups, was the dominant opposition force in the first two years of the war. It was initially backed by the Arab states and got cautious US support. After years of disunity and faltering advances, its influence and territory has shrunk, while Islamist groups have grown.

Jaysh al-Fateh
A broad coalition of Islamist factions that came together to fight Assad last year, when its advances forced Russia to come to his aid. Jaysh al-Fateh has been at the heart of the campaign to break the siege on Aleppo. The two most influential groups are as follows.

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) 
The reconstituted al-Qaida affiliate renounced its ties to the global terror group last month and changed its name, but few observers believe that will herald any change in its ideology.   [See quote above.]

Ahrar al-Sham
Formed by hardliners with Muslim Brotherhood links, who aim to establish a Sunni theocracy in Syria, Ahrar al-Sham fought with Nusra when it was still part of al-Qaida, but rejects international jihad itself. It has a strong support base in Syria.

 President Bashar al-Assad. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images